Former French president Nicholas Sarkozy’s dramatic criminal interrogation last week shows once again that the politics of the French Republic remain waist-deep in sewage. It was also an affront and humiliation of a former – and would be future – French president.
Sarkozy was picked up from his Paris home before eight AM and whisked off to a police and judicial center in the outskirts of the capitol. He was subjected to 15 hours of intensive questioning, then taken at two AM to be arraigned (‘mis en examen’) for possible corruption and perversion of justice.
“Grotesque” claimed Sarkozy the next day, insisting he was being humiliated and persecuted by leftwing political enemies in the judiciary. He may have been right. Such Stasi-like treatment of a former president was unprecedented and unnecessary. It was revealed that Sarkozy’s cell phone had been tapped by magistrates for over a year. What was going on?
The former president is accused of improperly using his influence by offering favors to two senior magistrates to find out details in an explosive 2007 case of illegal campaign financing. The late Col. Muammar Khadaffi claimed before his murder by French-linked insurgents that he had secretly given Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign $68 million. Khadaffi knew too much…and was talking.
As the pirates used to say, dead men tell no tales.
This case, now under intense investigation, could blow up and wreck what had until now appeared Sarkozy’s likely re-election in 2017. He remains the most leading candidate of the center-right while the current French Socialist president, Francois Hollande, is so miserably unpopular he couldn’t get elected as a dog catcher. Hollande’s popularity rating is 16% and falling. Amazingly, the disgraced Socialist leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn (aka DSK) is now better regarded by the French public than the wretched Hollande.
As I watched Sarkozy being carted off by the police, I wondered, could this be payback by the left for the honey-trap that ended the career of former Socialist luminary Strauss-Kahn?
The former International Monetary Fund director and Socialist bigwig, the notoriously oversexed Strauss-Kahn, was charged with attempting to rape an African maid in a French-owned New York hotel.
The case smelled of a frame up concocted by Strauss-Kahn’s enemies on the right, probably with help from an intelligence service. Strauss-Kahn was arrested, humiliated, and jailed. After a lurid trial, he finally beat the rap, but not before his political reputation was ruined and his quest for France’s presidency derailed. But for this tawdry case, Strauss-Kahn would likely have been elected president of France in 2012, sparing the republic the unloved Hollande. Many French darkly suspected Sarkozy was behind the plot against Strauss-Kahn.
Sarko has been up to his ears in scandal for a decade. He was recently acquitted of “abuse of the elderly” after being charged with taking envelopes of cash from France’s richest woman, the senile l’Oréal heiress, Lillian Betancourt. He faces other illegal fund-raising charges.
Another nasty case hounds Sarkozy involving kickbacks on a major submarine contract to Pakistan in which a number of French technicians were killed – allegedly after bribes to Pakistani politicians went unpaid. At the time, Sarkozy was chief campaign fund raiser for then presidential candidate Edouard Balladur.
While Sarkozy is still popular on the right, there is little personal sympathy for him. In the waspish words of Britain’s Francophobe Daily Mail, Sarko is a “French peacock married to a super model (Carla Bruni) who lives like a king.” Indeed, the Sarkozys have castles, magnificent country estates and yachting trips. Their jet-setting and love of gaudy excess has given Sarko the sobriquet, “president Bling.” The short, hyperactive, half Jewish, 5’5” Sarko is hardly the traditionally elegant, regal French president French admire. Napoleon was even taller than Sarko. But he has more energy than all his opponents combined.
France’s problem with political sleaze stems in good part because its overly restrictive campaign laws cause presidential candidates to solicit “black” funds, then conceal them.
In the past, the French government oil company Total was a favorite piggy bank for politicians. So, too, the dictators of former French West Africa. At French election time, they were expected to deliver bags of cash to the French candidates in exchange for future favors or carte blanche from human rights problems.
All of this financial and political sleaze was shrugged off by most French –at least until now. The establishment French media kept most of the scandals under wraps. In Britain, they would have been front-page screamer headlines.
The brusque way Sarko was handled was wrong. But the crimes of which he and his cronies are accused are extremely grave, defiling the honor of France and its republican governments. They must be investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted. Not a day too soon as the Fifth Republic crumbles.